By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — With the outcome long since settled and only a smattering of orange-clad fans still at Scott Stadium — plenty of purple remained in the stands — UVa scored two late touchdowns Saturday night.
Each came on a long pass by senior quarterback Jameel Sewell, who entered the fourth quarter having thrown for all of 18 yards.
Was that the equivalent of a meaningless garbage-time spurt by a basketball team that’s getting blown out?
Or was the late-game production something the Wahoos, who looked inept for much of the first 55 minutes against No. 16 Texas Christian, can build on moving forward?
We won’t know for sure until next weekend, when Virginia visits Southern Mississippi. But Sewell’s scoring passes — one of 56 yards to redshirt freshman receiver Javaris Brown, the other of 26 yards to true freshman receiver Tim Smith — were slivers of hope for a football team that’s 0-2 for the first time since 2002, Al Groh’s second season as UVa’s coach.
“We got beat up a lot, but we didn’t quit,” Sewell said after Virginia’s 30-14 loss to TCU.
Sewell started and played every snap for the Cavaliers, who’d used three quarterbacks in their season-opening loss to William and Mary last weekend. One of them, senior Vic Hall, was unavailable for QB duty yesterday because of an injury, and Groh said he didn’t consider using the other one, junior Marc Verica, against the Horned Frogs (1-0).
And so Sewell, who was out of school serving an academic suspension last fall, started for the first time since the Jan. 1, 2008, Gator Bowl.
Take away the yardage Sewell lost on sacks, and his rushing total (35 yards) would have been much more impressive. He struggled to find time to pass and open receivers, though, against a TCU defense that didn’t ease up until the score was 30-0.
Sewell completed only 4 of 10 passes through three quarters. He finished 8 of 18 for 120 yards, in part because TCU inserted reserves late in the game. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Horned Frogs had allowed only 80 yards of offense.
“We understood that it was going to be rugged moving the ball,” Groh said, “but still, we expect more out of ourselves.”
The Cavaliers have lost six straight since upsetting Georgia Tech last Oct. 25 in Atlanta. UVa hasn’t started a season 0-3 since 1982, George Welsh’s first season as coach, but it’s likely to do so again if its offensive line doesn’t play better next weekend.
TCU recorded eight sacks Saturday, the most UVa has allowed since giving up nine against Florida State in 1997. In 2008, the Cavaliers surrendered the fewest sacks of any ACC team, but Sewell faced pressure all game from the Horned Frogs and their All-America defensive end, Jerry Hughes.
“Everything starts with the offensive line,” said Will Barker, a four-year starter at right tackle.
“It’s nice to know if stuff does break down, Jameel or Vic, they’ve got the legs to get out of there … But as an offensive line, you don’t really want it to come down to that. We take pride in protecting our quarterback, and today was a big disappointment. We didn’t get the job done.”
Virginia shifted to the spread offense in the offseason, but Groh said that didn’t excuse the line’s breakdowns against TCU.
“That’s a position where clearly we need a little bit higher level of performance,” he said. “Those things really aren’t scheme-related. It doesn’t make any difference what your scheme is called. That’s just individual execution in those circumstances.”
The official attendance was 48,336, the lowest total since Scott Stadium’s capacity was increased to 61,500 before the 2000 season. Most of the crowd had departed by the time Sewell overthrew Smith on a long pass with 4:22 left, but the UVa fans who’d stuck around produced an impressive mock cheer.
That’s because Sewell had thrown nothing but short passes to that point, to the frustration and bewilderment of many at the stadium.
“As a quarterback, you want to air it out,” Sewell said, “but sometimes it’s not the right time to do it, and you’ve got to go with the flow and make something happen with what’s called.”
Smith would like to see more deep balls, too, but he’ll leave the play-calling to new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon.
“We’ve got to take what he gives us and make the best of it,” said Smith, who played only one series against William and Mary but started Saturday night. “Whether it’s a run play or a pass play, we’ve just got to do our job.”
Asked why UVa didn’t try to test TCU’s secondary more, Groh said “the ability for a quarterback and a team to go downfield is based significantly on the amount of time that he has to do so. Those are pretty long routes, and they take a long time to get there, and unfortunately Jameel was under quite a bit of duress in doing that.”
Brown’s touchdown reception came with 4:14 left, and tight end Colter Phillips ran for the 2-point conversion to make it 30-8. Then, with 1:48 remaining, Sewell hit Smith in the end zone.
“That’s what the offense could do if we get just a little more protection and just play together as a unit,” senior cornerback Chris Cook said. “I’m hoping there’s more of that to come.”
Barker said: “Obviously it’s good to know that when we do try and go for it, on those two big throws, we can do it. Obviously it was too late to really affect the score that much, but that’s something we’ve got to start the game with. We can’t wait till we’re down 30.”
The Cavaliers ran off the field to boos at the end of the first half. The boos faded late in the game, as fans seemed numbed by the team’s repeated breakdowns.
These tough times won’t last forever, Sewell vowed.
“I’m not going to predict any wins or anything, but we’re capable of competing with anybody,” he said. “We’re going to win some games. We’re definitely going to do that. There’s no doubt about that. The guys we got, nobody’s going to back down. Everybody’s willing to work and get better.”